Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On DVD & Streaming: Déborah François in Emmanuelle Bercot's STUDENT SERVICES

Money talks in the new French film STUDENT SERVICES.(Mes chères études). In fact, it takes on a life of its own, as a struggling college student begins turning tricks and bringing in anywhere from 140 to 250 euros -- at today's rate, around 200 to 350 U.S. dollars -- per pop. After her first encounter, which she detests, her john presents her with an envelope full of money. She quickly counts it and you can see the surprise and wonder subtly play across her face. Any doubts as to why this is the world's oldest profession immediately dispel. For a reasonably attractive young girl desperate for dough to continue her education, why not?

The reasons why not (as well as the reasons why) are brought to intelligent and believable life in this movie -- based on an evidently-famous French memoir by a college-age hooker, adapted by writer/director Emmanuelle Bercot (shown at right), and made for French television! (Any lingering doubts about the vast difference between what is considered adult TV fare here and in Europe should now be put to rest.) Ms Bercot -- who earlier gave us the terrific rock-star-and-her-obsessed-fan film Backstage -- sees to it that we, just as does her heroine Laura, understand exactly what that money earned is going to buy. After her first encounter, Laura (below) joins some friends at a local bar, and through her eyes, suddenly every drink, every cup of coffee has a price-tag attached.

This little nod to the monetary system is done occasionally throughout the movie, bringing us back again and again to barter and trade, rather than sex and sin. Once, as Laura grinds against her john, the money meter counts off per second, and this time we see the "value" of what Laura puts out, rather than what she buys in exchange for that.

The movie also makes clear the very real need of this girl to make decent money fast, rather than some minimum-wage job, in order to leave time for her studies -- which she pursues with a passion generally left out of the sex. Her first boyfriend/flat-mate (played by Benjamin Siksou, above) seems more interested in her as a cash cow than as a love (or even sex) object.
Her next man, nicely played by Mathieu Demy (above), tries hard to get around her profession -- using it to turn himself on, as a means to prove he's not jealous, even living off her for a time. But it's finally too much for  this relatively decent-but-problemed fellow.

Among the several johns Laura collects, the most interesting and nuanced is her first, played by Alain Cauchi (above) with a wonderful combination care and scare.  Ms Bercot and the superb actress who plays Laura -- Déborah François -- see to it that we are always kept off-balance by each assignation, wondering where it may go and if Laura will be harmed or cheated of her pay.  The film certainly does not stint on sex scenes or nudity, yet it is absolutely not prurient. We are always made aware of how Laura feels in any situation, and so for mature viewers this will register much more strongly than the male need for satisfaction. (Sorry, porno-freaks, you'd best look elsewhere.)

Ms François -- glammed-up for a PR shot, at left, and so effortlessly fine in everything from her debut in the Dardennes' The Child to The Page TurnerUnmade Beds and the crack comedy, as-yet-unreleased theatrically in the USA, Fais-moi plaisir! -- shows yet another side of her versatility here, and she's as good as she's ever been, which is saying something. She imbues Laura with such quiet, stern, hopeful life (watch her face, in language class, as she recites beautifully in Spanish, as her professor looks on) that she turns this very good movie into a memorable one.

Formerly shown on VOD as part of the IFC Midnight selections, Student Services is now available on DVD and via streaming from Netflix. The latter is how TrustMovies watched it, and the quality -- enabled by Time-Warner Cable's new "pay us more and we'll see to it that you can stream movies properly" enhancement, was first-rate. I'll have more to say later about this new "deal" whereby cable companies get to charge us even more for giving us what they ought to provide already.

All photos are from the film itself, expect for that 
of Ms François, above, which is by Steve Granitz
 courtesy of WireImage.com


Anonymous said...

Softcore junk. Deborah Francois is not serious actress but someone who gets roles only if she sows tits and ass. She has no credibility.

James van Maanen said...

Hey, Anon--
I think you are really selling this movie short. And the actress, too. Déborah François is good in everything she does (including showing tits and ass, by the way) and Emmanuelle Bercot is an intelligent filmmaker interested in a lot more than mere softcore junk, as you put it. I guess we disagree -- bigtime -- on this one....